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A Stamp on the Passport: Cruising Groomers at Buttermilk

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Buttermilk is one of four ski areas that make up Aspen Snowmass resort. It’s often described as “a mountain with two personalities.” These days, it’s best known for hosting the X-games, a festival of big air and big entertainment that will take place January 24-27, 2019. At the base of the mountain, our jaws dropped at the sight of a massive half pipe and one of its many terrain parks with enormous jumps. To the other end of the spectrum, it’s Aspen’s teaching mountain, offering the area’s best selection of beginner and intermediate terrain.

Steeped in history

The mountain was founded by champion skier, Friedl Pheifer of St. Anton, Austria just after WWII. Pheifer is an icon in US ski history, having a hand in several other renowned ski areas including Sun Valley and Alta. He put Aspen on the map as America’s first world-class ski area to draw world travelers. Aspen is one of 60 US ski areas founded by veterans of the 10th mountain division. Friedl Pheifer is among this legendary WWII battalion who carved out the US ski industry. While training near the area of Aspen just before Pheifer was shipped off to Italy to fight Nazis, he decided if he survived the war, he’d return and open a resort. Lucky for us, he did, though he returned with shrapnel in his spine and missing part of one of his lungs. You can learn more about the history of Buttermilk (and all four Aspen mountains) by joining their complimentary ambassador tours offered twice daily.

Our ambassador guide, Cindy Scholor shared one version of how Buttermilk got its name. The tale involved a miner who liked milk with his lunch. His trek up the steep mountain to go work caused his milk to slosh around in his canteen, and by the time he’d arrive, the milk turned to buttermilk. Cindy was quick to add, there’s no proof this is really how the mountain got its name but it’s a popular tale.

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Hidden fun

Some ski seasons, my 11-year-old son has been about conquering the next frontier. Last season it was about bragging rights to ski a double black diamond (I found a few at varying resorts that offered generous double diamond markings.)

This year, my fifth grader has preferred more cruiser runs and finding those obstacle courses in the trees, the kind usually marked, “Parents must be accompanied by a kid to enter.” Developmentally, I suppose it’s the age where one minute, my son wants to carry his own skis and mine to appear chivalrous and older than his years. And in other ways, he wants to savor what’s left of being a little kid who can still duck under (barely at 5’4”) faux ghost town tunnels in the woods.

Buttermilk was his favorite of Aspen’s four resorts because it offered plenty of groomers and several areas of fun woodsy terrain. Google posted the incorrect lift opening time, so we arrived a half hour before they officially opened. The ski patrol had just gone up, so they let us on early and we had the mountain to ourselves. First tracks on freshly groomed corduroy runs, on the sunny side of the mountain where the morning spring sun was just softening up the ridges. It was quiet and magical.

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Aspen Accessibility

The fifth-grade passport offers three days free at each of its 22 affiliated ski areas. To date, we were allotted just one lift ticket a day, even if we planned to ski consecutive days. But at Aspen Snowmass resorts, we were pleasantly surprised when we checked in to get our lift tickets at Buttermilk. We were required to pay $10 each for an Aspen RFID card pass, but we could load on consecutive days for our marathon 11-day Spring Break. The shuttle system is terrific, providing free transportation between each ski area. There’s free parking at Buttermilk and a few other Aspen area lots on the shuttle/bus routes.

Buttermilk is located walking distance from Aspen’s airport. It’s quite a sight seeing the line of private jets and a few commercial carriers’ smaller planes. We didn’t jet set in ourselves but drove in from Glenwood Springs a few days and from Carbondale on another.

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Aspen’s nextdoor neighbor offers easy access and delightful discoveries

Carbondale’s Distillery Inn was fabulous and family-friendly (despite being atop a gin distillery and bar). The room décor was hip and high end. Do book ahead of time as the Inn only offers five rooms. The Inn is located on one end of this quaint mountain town and walking distance from the many of its restaurants and shops.  

A must visit is the True Nature Healing Arts Center. My son and I stretched out our ski legs at their Invigorate and Restore yoga class which was by far the best yoga class I’ve taken since I lived in Los Angeles. We played a game of chess in their beautiful café overlooking the Zen garden (relaxing and peaceful even when not in bloom). I returned later for their signature True massage which left me feeling truly restored for more skiing on our epic 11-day spring break visit. The spa building is the center’s newest addition and is luxuriously appointed. The massage involved warm towels that stretched my neck and just the right amount of anointing and kneading. I left feeling two inches taller and truly renewed.

Follow along with Lori’s Passport journey here.